Friday, November 17, 2017
Stage

Violinist Simone Porter, a teenage superstar, to lead Florida Orchestra this weekend

RECOMMENDED READING


Simone Porter stood near the edge of an elegant proscenium stage in Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle, and tried not to think about the 2,500 people in the seats.

Years of dedication had led to this debut with the Seattle Symphony. She had been rehearsing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor with the other musicians, especially the rapturous finale, her solo. But at this moment, she felt only terror.

This is it.

She was 10 years old. The conductor lifted her baton.

• • •

Today Porter is 19 and on the cusp of international stardom. She will appear this weekend with the Florida Orchestra, performing a familiar piece: Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.

In the last few years, she has debuted for the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and orchestras on other continents. A year ago, she was one of five musicians to win an Avery Fisher Career Grant, which recognizes great potential for solo careers.

In September, she played Barber's Violin Concerto for the Houston Symphony, replacing Hilary Hahn, who had canceled engagements to care for a newborn child. That's some pressure. The third movement of the Barber concerto has a reputation for extreme difficulty, and Hahn is one of best violinists in the world.

In a recent phone interview, Porter recalled hearing a CD of Puccini arias as a toddler.

"I found it fascinating and was just totally seduced by the art form," she said. Her parents taught international studies at the University of Utah (and, later, the University of Seattle). Neither had a musical background.

But they noticed that whenever they gave their daughter a choice of music to listen to, she always picked the Puccini.

They took her to concerts.

"I fell in love with the violin," Porter said, "and bugged my parents until they let me start when I was 3 1/2."

From then on, forces combined to get Porter the best training possible. After the family moved to Seattle, she studied with well-known violin teacher Margaret Pressley.

Pressley believes perfecting technique is far more important than melodies, which will come along soon enough. Thus the early years of Porter's training focused exclusively on foundation work, or playing scales.

"Without that foundation you have nothing," Porter said. "You are building a range of expressive technique. Without those years of painstaking work with my teacher, the emotional content of these wonderful pieces would never make it past your heart and your mind. To communicate it, you need to work for years in all these tiny little incremental details."

She doesn't like to be called a prodigy — a term, she has often argued, that implies talents bestowed at birth.

By middle school she was a sensation, appearing on PBS' From the Top at Carnegie Hall and The World's Greatest Musical Prodigies, a BBC documentary.

At 11, she started studying with renowned violin teacher Robert Lipsett, keeping up with schoolwork while flying between Seattle and the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. Lipsett's students have won important competitions, become Presidential Scholars. Lipsett, who has trained numerous solo artists and concertmasters, holds a distinguished chair at the school named for Jascha Heifetz, whom Itzhak Perlman dubbed the "king of violinists" upon Heifetz's death in 1987.

A $50,000 scholarship helped make the travel and training possible. But Porter was still a normal kid. She played soccer and read all the Harry Potter books, even started designing her own dresses.

Her parents encouraged her only to work hard, set goals and be intellectually curious. They never pressured her to perform.

"It would have been absolutely fine" if at any point she had said she didn't want to be violinist anymore, or even to play the violin.

"If I said that now — I never would now, but if I did — I think they would absolutely support me," she said.

• • •

Porter lives in downtown Los Angeles, and is in her junior year at the Colburn Conservatory. She still studies with Lipsett, who last year said his longtime student has "nerves of steel."

"It's not pressure the way most people would feel it," Lipsett told the Seattle Times. "It's food that nurtures her soul."

She still plays scales every day, on a 1745 G.B. Guadagnini violin.

In her spare time, she reads critically acclaimed fiction with an international flavor. Favorite authors include Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, the Czech-born writer Milan Kundera, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and an unknown novelist who uses the pen name Elena Ferrante.

"Many more!" Porter said in a text message. Most of her sentences end with exclamation points, rather like those crisply confident bow strokes.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

Comments
What’s on stage this week: Benji Brown, ‘No Man’s Land’ on screen, Florida Orchestra does Bruch

What’s on stage this week: Benji Brown, ‘No Man’s Land’ on screen, Florida Orchestra does Bruch

KIKI OR BUST: BENJI BROWNWherever Benji Brown goes, Kiki follows. The comic, known for his work on the Rickey Smiley Morning Show, created the fast-talking female character on the fly when he called a girl’s house in high school and her boyfriend pic...
Published: 11/15/17
American Stage’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is just what the love doctor ordered

American Stage’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is just what the love doctor ordered

ST. PETERSBURG — A centuries-old template for the rom-com as we know it and one of Shakespeare’s most produced comedies, Much Ado About Nothing comes to us at a time when we can really use some love conquering all. Just what the love doctor ordered, ...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/15/17
Review: With a fine script, Stage West cast puts on a great show in ‘Baggage’

Review: With a fine script, Stage West cast puts on a great show in ‘Baggage’

Okay, I’ll admit I went into the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill on opening night of the comedy Baggage expecting another June/moon/spoon romance-comedy. And sure enough, that’s just the way it started.A man and a woman grab ea...
Published: 11/10/17
Updated: 11/16/17
From stickup to stand-up, bank robber's second act is comedy

From stickup to stand-up, bank robber's second act is comedy

TAMPA — He had dreamed about returning to comedy in odd moments, between meetings with the lawyer, the lonely trip to the correctional institute, picking up trash on state roads while a guard stood by with a rifle. This nightmare would make him...
Published: 11/10/17
Updated: 11/12/17
Sammy Hagar talks Clearwater concert, tequila and Van Halen drama

Sammy Hagar talks Clearwater concert, tequila and Van Halen drama

The Red Rocker calls on time, and he is all kinds of fired up."Hey, Jay, Sammy Hagar here. Are you ready for me?"Is anyone ever truly ready for a phone call from Hagar, the flame-haired, motor-mouthed ex-Van Halen singer who once dubbed himself the C...
Published: 11/09/17
Updated: 11/12/17
What’s on stage this week: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in Key West, Travis Wall Shaping Sound

What’s on stage this week: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in Key West, Travis Wall Shaping Sound

AMERICAN STAGE: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHINGTwo couples nearly come apart at the seams for different reasons, the premise for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, opening at American Stage. This version is set in Key West in the 1940s, the end of World Wa...
Published: 11/08/17
Updated: 11/15/17
Review: ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ at Stageworks

Review: ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ at Stageworks

At the beginning of The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion acknowledges that the audience might not want to hear her story because we don’t think it could happen to us."It will happen to you," Didion says with a rueful smile, and of course she’s r...
Published: 11/06/17
Updated: 11/07/17
What's on stage this week: 'The Year of Magical Thinking,' Florida Orchestra milestone concert, John Cleese

What's on stage this week: 'The Year of Magical Thinking,' Florida Orchestra milestone concert, John Cleese

STAGEWORKS: MINING GRIEF FOR HEALING The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s no-frills memoir of loss and recovery, opens at Stageworks Theatre this weekend. The essayist and screenwriter adapted the one-woman stage play herself. Didion w...
Published: 11/01/17
Updated: 11/08/17
Romantic comedy ‘Baggage’ opens Nov. 9 at Stage West

Romantic comedy ‘Baggage’ opens Nov. 9 at Stage West

The romantic comedy Baggage opens at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Shows will continue at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 19. Phyllis Novack and Bradley Naught...
Updated one month ago
Richey Suncoast cancels Black Box shows, adds 13 specials

Richey Suncoast cancels Black Box shows, adds 13 specials

NEW PORT RICHEY — The highly anticipated second season of Richey Suncoast Theatre’s Black Box Cabaret has been canceled. The series of shows was set to start Nov. 10 and conclude June 17 in the space formerly occupied by Jimmy Ferraro’s Studio Theate...
Updated one month ago